Vancouver has plenty of cultural and recreational attractions to lure visitors from around the world. But what about travellers on a budget? Here are 11 places to visit in Vancouver for free that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
1-Spend time in Stanley Park
Of all the obvious places to visit in Vancouver, Stanley Park is one of the best spots that won’t cost you anything.
The 400ha city park provides views of the bay and Lions Gate Bridge, swimming beaches, wooded trails, and, my favourite, a gorgeous collection of totem poles.
Visitors can read the accompanying plaques that explain the meaning of each pole and tell you a little about the artist.
There’s even one completed in 1955 by Ellen Keel and her uncle, Mungo Martin. Keel was the first female Northwest Coast carver.
By the time you read all the plaques, you’ll be able to tell a raven from a thunderbird.
2-Go Cathedral hopping
Looking for tranquil places to visit in Vancouver? Downtown Vancouver has some gorgeous cathedrals. Holy Rosary Catholic Church, a Gothic cathedral, opened in 1900.
Of the cathedral’s 21 significant stained glass windows, five were created by Guido Nincheri, Canada’s most prolific religious artist of the 20th century.
Just a few blocks away, check out Christ Church Cathedral. This Anglican cathedral, also built in a Gothic style, was dedicated in 1895.
It features cedar planking and a floor made from old growth Douglas fir. At press time, scaffolding covers its lovely face, but it will open again post-renovation.
Cars have highways. Birds have flyways. The Pacific Flyway passes right over Vancouver, so visitors can see black oyster catchers, great blue herons, western grebes and many other species.
Stanley Park is one of the best places to visit in Vancouver for bird watching. Or, if you have a car, drive 30km south to Boundary Bay, a notable flyway rest stop.
4-Learn about Ammolite
Scattered around downtown are jewellery stores with large selections of ammolite.
This rare gemstone comes from the ancient inland seas of Alberta, and is considered a Canadian national treasure.
This means it can’t be taken out of the country without government approval.
Ammolite shines like a rainbow opal and comes from fossils that look like giant snails. I wandered into Ammolite Museum in Gastown.
It’s really a jewellery store, but has fossil displays and a knowledgeable clerk who explained how time and geologic pressure formed the different colours in the stone.
5-See First Nations Art
First Nations people of the Pacific Northwest have a distinctive style of art. Much of it honours important local animals, such as killer whales, bears, wolves, frogs and ravens.
You’ll see many galleries around Vancouver that display the masks, paintings and sculptures of First Nations artists.
My favourite is the Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery.
Created as a social enterprise by Vancouver Native Housing Society, it provides a place for Aboriginal artists to show their work and helps fund affordable housing for these artists.
6-Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum
This international public art sculpture event brings art from around the world to Vancouver for a two-year stint.
Take a self-guided tour through Vancouver, Squamish, Richmond, New Westminster and North Vancouver.
You can plan your tour by consulting the website. Or you might come upon the pieces by accident.
If you arrive in Vancouver by train, Canadian artist Ivan Eyre’s “Bird Wrap” will be waiting to greet you.
China, France, Brazil, Poland and many other countries are represented in the 2014 – 2016 set.
7-Do the Grouse Grind
No, it’s not a new dance. The Grouse Grind is a short, narrow hike up a steep mountain 12km north of Vancouver.
You’ll climb 2,830 steps in 2.9km, for an elevation gain of 853m. The reward? A serious cardio workout and an excellent view.
The average time is 90 minutes. The record, 23 minutes and 48 seconds. Hiking up is free. However, you’ll need $10 to get back down on the gondola.
8-Visit the Punjab
Or at least Vancouver’s version. Vancouver is a culturally diverse city with many Indian residents.
While Indians have lived and worked in Vancouver for more than a century, in the 1970s they reached critical mass and the Punjabi Market was born.
This neighborhood occupies six blocks of Main Street in South Vancouver. Marvel at gold bangles and silks, smell the curry, and pretend you’re 10,880 km away.
9-Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of Vancouver’s top attractions.
It’s wonder to walk across the footbridges high above the forest floor and there’s also the new Cliffwalk along the Capilano River. But Capilano Suspension Bridge isn’t free.
So if you’re looking for similar places to visit in Vancouver while on a budget head to Lynn Canyon’s bridge, which is free, 40m long, 50m above Lynn Creek and plenty jiggly to thrill daredevils.
Built in 1912, it’s barely wide enough for two people to pass each other.
The bridge is located in a public park and is open year-round. If you visit during summer, rangers will be around to answer your questions.
10-Check out a Festival
Vancouver hosts many festivals every year. And while some are pricey, others are free.
Will you dance to reggae music during Caribbean Days Festival or shake it to bhangra at Indian New Year?
That all depends on when you visit.
The Tour Guys have been giving free walking tours of Vancouver for five years now. Tour options include Chinatown, downtown and the waterfront, Granville Street, Gastown and other places to visit in Vancouver. Daily in the summer, less frequently in the off-season. The only drawback? The tour is free but your guide is really, really hoping for a tip.
A beautiful place in BC that will steal your heart is only a plane ride away from Vancouver. Haida Gwaii Tours are easy to access and the region is a wonder of nature.